Why Rooting Joy in Ministry Success Is Disastrous

Why Rooting Joy in Ministry Success Is Disastrous

Is there a greater thrill than to know someone's life has been permanently transformed because you reached out to them?

It is sweet to know your sister was saved through your series of conversations, or that you helped to disciple a struggling couple whose marriage was headed toward an inevitable divorce, or that you preached a sermon that God was kind enough to use in someone's spiritual awakening.

Each of those things are treasured experiences — but none of them are intended to sustain our joy.

Jesus’ chose 72 of his followers and sent them out in his name. And they found incredible success in healing the sick and in watching demonically sabotaged lives get radically and immediately repaired. The experience must have been intoxicatingly fun.

But ministry success wasn't the most stunning thing, and Jesus warned his followers of that when they returned. He told them to look beyond the fruit and see an eternal foundation: "do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).

Written in heaven. That’s what he wanted them to see and us to see. Our highest joy is to know that our names are written in heaven. Knowing we are heirs to the bliss of God's eternal presence is the foundation for our greatest joys.

And knowing that means:

  • Pastoring is not the most important fact about the pastor.
  • Missions is not the most important fact about the missionary.
  • The spiritual gift is not the most important fact about the Christian.

In the Slump

But Jesus’ words apply to ministry “sag” just as much as they apply to revival.

By unplugging the disciples’ joy from their ministry effectiveness, Jesus likewise protects them (and us) from depression during seasons of seeming fruitlessness. Seasons of what appears to be effectiveness and ineffectiveness come and go. Seasons of revival are replaced by seasons of stagnation.

Perhaps we can include all of the fluctuations of life. Marriage, parenting, work, school — all areas of life where we are called by God to bear fruit. Our joy is not rooted in our successes, and it's not extinguished by our failures. Our joy is rooted in the unalterable fact that in Christ our names are written on heaven's roll-call.

Paul reminded his ministry associates of this point (Philippians 4:3). And I need that reminder every morning. Because whether ministry is flourishing or not, we need to remind ourselves, and remind each other, that our names are written in heaven. And it is in heaven, in the presence of God forever, where our joy is rooted. May God protect us now, in the bustle of life and the wins and losses in ministry, from losing the sweetness of that truth.

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Tony Reinke (@tonyreinke) is a content strategist at Desiring God, blogger, the author of Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (2011) and John Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (2015), and hosts the Ask Pastor John and Authors on the Line podcasts. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Karalee, and their three children.